Release Date: February 26, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
One extraordinary love.
Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.
Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.(courtesy of Goodreads)
It's always hard to read a super-hyped novel. I find that only a rare few live up to everyone's heightened expectations. It seems like everyone and their sister has been raving about Eleanor & Park. I put off reading largely out of nervousness that it couldn't stand up to Amy's other titles which I loved. Lucky for me, Eleanor & Park was just as wonderful as everyone said.
The book sets itself apart by its setting: Omaha in 1986. That was the year I started kindergarten. I was 4 years old for most of the year, so I remember virtually nothing. But since I was old enough to read TV and started middle school in 1992, I have a decent awareness of the 1980s culture. This was a fun mixture of nostalgia and history for me. I didn't exactly live it, but it felt very familiar. I wonder how readers ten or more years younger than me would react.
Part of what made this book so unique is just that: it's unique. Rainbow Rowell appears to have consciously steered clear of every YA romance trope. There's no insta-love or even insta-hate: mostly reluctance and suspicion. The characters are unremarkable. You even know from the first page that there isn't going to be an entirely happy ending.
As I said above, Eleanor & Park are not remarkable. Eleanor is introduced explicitly as not being pretty. She is overweight with big red hair and a generally morose disposition. Park is average. Neither of them are exceptionally intelligent, wealthy, kind, funny, or talented in any way. They are average teenagers. And that made this book better. Most of us are not as cool as the protagonists in YA novels. We can imagine ourselves as Eleanor and Park, both of whom are three dimensional, flawed people.
Eleanor trusts no one. Her horrific stepfather and downtrodden mother have given her reason to distrust. She comes off as unpleasant, but seeing the world through her narration, we learn that she is really scared and vulnerable. Park is a nice kid, but not overly nice. When Eleanor is the new kid on the bus who dresses weird, Park doesn't want anything to do with her. He is too afraid of being shunned by his peers. Not the ideal reaction, but a very real one.
One YA trope that Eleanor & Park does fulfill is angst. There's so much angst in E&P's growing relationship. Thankfully, the angst entirely fits their characters and the situation. Mostly there are no big tragedies that put roadblocks in their way. It's more like little misunderstandings or teenage insecurities. Very much like a real romance would struggle to survive.
Eleanor & Park really is a stand-out novel. It hits every note of a teenage romance with all its ups and downs, without feeling melodramatic. Eleanor and Park are characters you come to love and care for, despite their flaws. Unlike many readers, though, I preferred Fangirl over Eleanor & Park. I think they're of equal quality, but I identify with Fangirl a little bit more. It definitely says something about Rainbow's skill that she's written two outstanding YA novels. I can't wait to read her next book.
Rating: 4.5 / 5
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